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It seems to me, to quote the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who has left the Chamber, that to call the video that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden described at some length merely unhelpful is the understatement of the year. It is quite wrong that such material should be produced and it is quite right that it is illegal for education authorities to produce it. I support the retention of section 28.
Mr. Borrow: I have two brief points to make before my main argument. I was somewhat bemused by the comments of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and his concern for the health of gay men, in view of the situation in Glasgow, where section 28 has resulted in health work with gay men not being undertaken. I wish that some of the opponents of the repeal of section 28 would decide whether they are concerned about the health of gay men or whether they are as hostile to gay men as many of their attitudes and comments would indicate.
When clause 28 was being debated in the late 1980s, I was a newly elected member of Preston borough council. I remember a debate on the clause to which I contributed. A number of points were made as we looked forward to what would happen when the clause was implemented. First, the measure mentioned the promotion of sexuality several times. The presumption was that it was possible to turn someone who was heterosexual into someone who was attracted to, and wanted relationships with, someone of the same sex. I have yet to meet anybody who knew of such a case or had come across an example.
There seems to be a myth about the promotion of homosexuality. One of the dividing lines on the issue is between those who believe that section 28 will create more gay men and women through the promotion of homosexuality and those who look at the reality and accept that people's sexuality is something that they discover as they grow up and over which they have no control. They do have control over how they develop relationships, having discovered their sexuality, but that is a different issue.
The second part of the measure that I remember debating all those years ago said that a local authority shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
This afternoon, we have heard that section 28 no longer applies to schools. However, I remember comments made by a retired school teacher when it did apply to schools. She had spent all her working life teaching in high schools. She bitterly opposed the introduction of section 28 because she felt that it would inhibit teachers when they counselled and worked with pupils. When pupils express doubt about their sexuality to a teacher, the last thing they need is legislation that prevents a teacher from saying that to be gay is okay, and that people who grow up and find that they are gay and enter a same-sex relationship are perfectly good and decent. Over the years, teachers have felt inhibited about making such comments.
Moreover, there have been problems because of bullying. The section makes it difficult to tackle bullying. It is not just a matter of telling people to stop bullying; they need to be told why it is wrong to bully and that the person who is being bullied is just as good as they are. When legislation states that gay relationships are unacceptable, how can a teacher stop a class of children bullying one of their number? The teacher cannot tell them that it is perfectly all right for people to be gay. That was one of the key issues when the section was introduced.
I accept that the point no longer applies to the education system, because sex education and the problem of bullying are no longer covered by section 28. Proposals in the Learning and Skills Bill remove such matters from measures controlling local government. I am thus puzzled as to why the Opposition want to reintroduce such a provision on education when it has no place in education.
Part of section 28 will remain if the Tories get their way. It relates to whether a local authority can undertake measures that promote homosexuality. There have been no legal judgments on cases arising from section 28. I suspect that one of the reasons why no such case has completed its passage through the courts is the difficulty of deciding whether it is possible to promote homosexuality at all. Although there are still some people who believe that is possible, most rational people do not.
Local authorities--including Corby, Glasgow and Cardiff--are using section 28 to justify not giving support and funding to organisations in their area that assist gay and lesbian people, or are used by them. The point is simple. When I was a local authority leader, I approved grants to voluntary organisations that helped groups with a particular religious, local or other interest. Section 28 is being used to deny grants and support to community- based organisations serving the needs of gays and lesbians.
There are gay men and women in every constituency. Surely their local authorities should have the power--unfettered by section 28--to give services, either directly or through other organisations, to members of the gay community in their constituencies. However, under section 28 and given the ambiguity of the word "promotion", they are prevented from doing that.
Over the past 12 years, most local authorities have ignored section 28 when it has come to supporting gay and lesbian groups in their areas. However, because of the work of the Christian Institute and other organisations, local authorities are backing away from giving services and support to gay and lesbian people. That goes against everything that the House should stand for. It promotes division, homophobia and exclusion. If there is one thing that we in this place should be about it is promoting tolerance, equality and inclusion. I urge hon. Members to oppose the new clause and the amendments.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): This has been a surprisingly good debate, given the passions that the subject often arouses. I want to join virtually every Conservative Member who has spoken in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) for a very brave and convincing speech, which I for one admired.
Although I did not agree with the conclusions of the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen), I was grateful for what she said about everyone in the Chamber--I count myself among them--being united in the desire to build a fair and tolerant society in which minority rights are respected and protected unless there are overwhelming reasons to the contrary. However, we must recognise that it is our duty to reflect the views held by people outside the House. In that regard, it is right to recognise something that has not yet been articulated in the debate: that many people whom we represent are not of the view that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality. Even though they hold that view, they abhor discrimination against homosexuals.
That point was developed helpfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) when he quoted religious leaders. When he quoted a Muslim leader, I was alarmed to hear a rather derogatory remark from someone on the Liberal Benches about the tolerance of that religion. That is worrying. We should keep clear and open
The only jarring note struck in the debate was the earlier suggestion that those Conservative and Labour Members who support the retention of section 28 are in some sense homophobic or party to the incitement of acts of terrorism against the homosexual community. I fundamentally and completely reject that view.
As the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale made clear, this is, in one sense, a narrow debate. It is about the use of taxpayers' money to promote a particular ideology or point of view. It is not about the rights or wrongs of homosexuality, but about what the state does with its resources.
Last week, I received in my postbag a letter from a doctor in my constituency who has written to the Prime Minister to express her opposition to the scrapping of section 28, and I shall be interested to see the reply that the Prime Minister sends. The letter certainly reflects the overwhelming support in my constituency for the retention of section 28. At no stage in the eight years that I have been a Member of Parliament has a head teacher expressed concern about its operation in relation to his or her school's anti-bullying policy. The Government are slaying a dragon of their own imagination to appeal to a small cosmopolitan elite; the problem does not exist. I totally reject the arguments that have been made about bullying.